Ilan Pappe – Settler Countries

By Ilan Pappe, BDS-Kampagne,
28 Februar 2017.
In the last ten years, an old
scholarly paradigm that was used for the historical analysis of European
settler movements in various parts of the worlds, and in different periods,
resurfaced in the USA and Australia as part of the new wish to understand the
modern histories of these countries. Leading historians from all around the
world reshaped the paradigm of settler colonialism to include all the places
where European immigrants colonised non-European lands, at first with the help
of Colonial Empires, and then struggling against the Empire and the local
indigenous population.
All the countries in North,
Central and South America are settler colonial countries. As are Australia, New
Zealand, Algeria, Zimbabwe and South Africa. By this, we mean they either have
a settler colonial history or still are engaged in struggle against the native
indigenous population.
In many cases, the settler
movement genocided the indigenous people (in the Americas and Australia) and in
other places such as Algeria it was involved in a long and bloody war of
liberation and in South Africa and Zimbabwe the settler movement imposed an
Apartheid system, accompanied by operations of ethnic cleansing.
The histories of all these
countries, including the unpleasant chapters, are analysed freely by the world
academic institutions and this has helped considerably the process of
reconciliation and social harmony.  Depicting a country as having a
settler colonial past or present is not undermining its legitimacy and is not
an ideological crusade. This is now an accepted truism around the academic
Within this exciting new
scholarly development, quite a few scholars, including from Israel, wished to
examine whether this academic paradigm apply to Israel and Palestine. The
Journal of Settler Colonial Studies devoted two special volumes to the topic
and the prestigious post-colonial studies journal, Interventions, is going to
publish a special issue on this.  Dozens of post-graduate students around
the world, including in Germany are working on applying this paradigm to the
case of Israel and Palestine: it raises questions not just about Israel in the
past, but also about  the Palestinian struggle and strategy in the present
and in the future.  More importantly than anything else it sheds new light
on the possibility for peace and reconciliation after decades of a failed peace
process (this what academia is there for).
The application of the paradigm
triggered some concern which was successfully satisfied. At the University of
Berkley in the US, after concerns were voiced about a course dealing with
 settler colonialism in Israel/Palestine, the university probed into the
apprehensions and ruled that the topic was valid and purely academic.
 Similar concerns were voiced when the University of Exeter in the United
Kingdom convened a conference of settler colonialism in Palestine. A very
fruitful dialogue with the Anglo-Jewish community showed that this cannot only
be understood as  a legitimate conference topic but also as an important
contribution for furthering the research on Israel and Palestine.
To silence anyone for teaching
about settler colonialism or ethnic cleansing in Israel and Palestine, or
further researching about it, is a grave violation of academic freedom and free
speech. It de-legitimizes the vast majority of scholars who work today on
Israel and Palestine around the world, many of whom are employing these
paradigms to understand the past and the present realities.  To fire
someone or stop employing someone on the basis of such intellectual curiosity
in Germany is an insult to the past and successful efforts to build a free and
democratic society there.
Unfortunately this is what is
happening currently in Germany. I´d like to mention particularly the cases of
Eleonora Roldán Mendívil and Farid Esack here.
Eleonora Roldán Mendivíl is a
young academic teaching a course called “Racism in capitalism” at the
Otto-Suhr-Institute of the Free University of Berlin. After obscure right-wing
zionist bloggers claimed that her assessment of Israel as a colonial project
and Apartheid state constitute anti-Semitic statements, a claim that was taken
up by the right-wing populist newspaper Jerusalem Post and a pro-Israel student
group at the Free University, her further employment with the
Otto-Suhr-Institute for next semester was cancelled. It is important to mention
that her assessment of Israel were made in activist contexts, not in her class.
Her work is in the process of being evaluated with regards to the
above-mentioned claims and with all due respect towards our colleague Prof. Dr.
Benz who conducts it, I hope that this is done in the spirit of science
outlined above. As far as matters of my expertise are relevant, I´m happy to
contribute to this assessment.
Prof. Farid Esack is a muslim
liberation theologist, former leading anti-apartheid fighter and head of BDS South
Africa. Until recently he held a position as visiting professor at the
University of Hamburg´s Academy of World Religions. He too was smeared as
anti-Semite, terror-backer, holocaust denier. The German press was happy to
speak about Mr Esack -and repeat whatever groundless accusation was flung at
him- but, for very few exceptions, incapable of communicating with him
directly. Hamburg´s largest opposition party, CDU, is to bring a draft of a
resolution to the to the state Parliament („Bürgerschaft“) of the Federal State
of Hamburg which – if endorsed by it – would pronounce BDS anti-Semitic.
The Academy of World Religions
has by now distanced itself from offering Esack the position of a guest
lecturer; this despite the fact, according to their very own statement, that he
enjoys a brilliant academic reputation and has done nothing to diminish this in
any shape or form. What the attackers find unbearable is the fact that Prof.
Esack frequently compares the conduct of the state of Israel to that of the former
Apartheid state of South Africa and to the definition of Apartheid under
International Law. The consequences he derives from that is his commitment to
the boycott movement issued by the Palestinian civil society, namely BDS. BDS
enjoys very broad support of the South African population and politicians.
Again, it seems as if basic
scientific principles were abandoned as soon as the anti-Semitism smear is
flung: apparently it must be stressed towards the German public and media that
this is not a religious question with sacrosanct doctrines, but much rather the
question whether Israel is an Apartheid state and/or -as I myself have stated
in recent publications- a settler colonial state committing multiple crimes
under International law, most notably the crime of ethnic cleansing, can very
well be discussed and determined inside a scientific framework and public
debate. The Palestinians are doomed to invisibility by this kind of hateful
discourse: behind the smoke screen of anti-Semitism smears the actual reality
on the ground and the 70 years of suffering are successfully buried- that is,
if we allow the agitators to have their will.
Therefore I call upon the German
public and media to treat individuals who challenge zionist belief systems
fairly, not only but especially within the academia. This entails the space to
express their views and to engage in public debate without fearing to be
smeared and degraded. Debate is not an obstacle to scientific progress but
rather one of its main ingredients.

I´d like to express my heart-felt
solidarity with the colleagues in question -Eleonora Roldán Mendivíl and Prof.
Farid Esack- and everyone else being attacked in a similar manner. I intend to
follow the future course of events in Germany intently and sincerely hope that
scientific inquiry and reason prevail.